A portable sense of security

A San Mateo company is in the midst of an edgy marketing campaign for its online consumer-banking security product.

GuardID Systems has hired notorious reformed-hacker-turned-security-consultant Kevin Mitnick to speak in radio advertisements for ID Vault, a $49.95 USB device designed to improve security for users’ online financial transactions.

The company hopes its product is seen as one solution to the ever-growing problem of identity theft, which the federal government estimates victimizes 9 million Americans annually.

“The problem that our product is addressing is getting worse and worse,” CEO Jerry Thompson said. “The people who are learning how to do online fraud are getting really good at it.”

Users store their login names and passwords for their various financial accounts on the device, and then log into the device with a separate password. The device then logs in to users’ accounts on their banking or financial Web sites, protecting the passwords from being accessed by hackers using spyware to view their keystrokes.

Because the product is password-based, it doesn’t protect people from “social engineering,” or the common practice of tricking people into giving up their security information, Gartner Research analyst Ant Allan wrote in a report of the product.

But because it has a function that checks sign-in requests online against a database of legitimate financial sites, it can help protect against “phishing,” he wrote.

Phishing is the name for faked financial-company e-mails that direct viewers to a bogus Web site where they’re encouraged to log in, thus divulging their usernames and passwords.

Thompson said earlier this year that the company has sold more than 123,000 ID Vaults through BestBuy (BBY), QVC, CompUSA, OfficeMax (OMX) and other retailers.

Anthony Cueller, an executive with Snader & Associates in San Rafael, said he has found the product both convenient and effective.

TDavid, a technology blogger, said he returned his ID Vault to the store after a June trial in which he could not make it work correctly, particularly not with Firefox, his preferred Internet browser. ID Vault was not scheduled to work with Firefox until late May, Thompson said; it previously ran only on Internet Explorer.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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